Nardus Engelbrecht is a distinguished photographer known for his exceptional work in both photojournalism and theatre photography. With a keen eye for capturing the essence of the moment, Engelbrecht has made a significant impact in the world of visual storytelling. His work in photojournalism brings to light compelling stories from around the globe, showcasing his ability to convey powerful narratives through his lens. Meanwhile, his theatre photography captures the dynamism and emotion of live performances, offering audiences a glimpse into the captivating world of the performing arts. Engelbrecht’s unique blend of skills allows him to traverse these two diverse fields, making him a versatile and influential figure in the photography community. We chat with the Orms X Canon: Let Us Move You exhibition competition winner about his journey, inspirations, and the challenges he faces in the ever-evolving landscape of photography. Engelbrecht shares insights into his creative process, highlighting the importance of patience, observation, and the ability to anticipate moments before they unfold.

nardus engelbrecht

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I am a photographer who loves living in Cape Town. I have a studio where I do portraiture, mostly of performers and publicity images of theatre productions. I also shoot news as a stringer for Associated Press.

What initially drew you to photography, and how did you transition into specializing in theatre and ballet photography?

I started working as a photojournalist in Johannesburg in 2003. It was a great time to work in news. Newspapers still had budgets, and stories were rarely too far to cover. The greatest thing about photojournalism is the variety of genres you get to shoot, and I was also introduced to theatre and ballet. I moved to Cape Town in 2008 and started shooting more of this. I love shooting most things in a theatre, and find dance and ballet the most challenging.

nardus engelbrecht

You are the winner of the Orms X Canon: Let Us Move You exhibition competition. What motivated you to enter, and what does it feel like to be crowned the winner?

I am on the Sea Point Promenade almost every morning. So I’ve seen the previous exhibitions and thought it would be cool to have one of my pictures showcased here. I always wanted to enter but never did. When I saw the theme, I decided to take a chance. I’m happy I did. I’m grateful to see my picture there every time I go there. Thank you to Orms and Canon for such a great initiative.

Please tell us a little about your winning image.

I used to do a lot of backstage photo essays. This image was shot during Cape Town City Ballet’s performance of Cinderella in 2018. It was shot from the wings of the stage at Artscape.

Orms x Canon

Theatre and ballet are dynamic and transient. What is your strategy for capturing the perfect moment during a performance?

I don’t really have a strategy. Timing and anticipation are important in most genres of photography, so I try to get that right. I also like experimenting with slow shutter.

What are the biggest technical challenges when shooting performances, and how do you overcome them?

Not all theatre lighting works for photography. Some moments on stage can’t be photographed well because of low light. And that’s ok.

nardus engelbrecht

How do you work with stage lighting, which is often complex and rapidly changing, to capture both the clarity of movement and the mood of a scene?

Practice and doing it a lot. I always shoot on manual and don’t shoot at crazy ISO speeds.

How closely do you work with performers and directors before or during a production? Is there a collaborative process in planning how performances are photographed?

When you photograph a production, you photograph a director’s idea of something they’ve created. Collaboration isn’t really necessary, you should just respect their work and process and try to give a true reflection of what happens on stage. You have to capture the theatre magic they created. Sometimes it’s easier than others. The only time I get to collaborate with directors is when I do publicity shoots for productions in my studio.

ballet photography

Of all the performances you’ve photographed, do you have a favourite or one that stands out as particularly memorable? Why?

I have been privileged to photograph the work of some of the greatest directors, actresses, actors, and dancers in South Africa over the past 21 years. I have favourites, but that’s personal.

What advice would you give to photographers looking to specialise in theatre and ballet?

You will always need to do other photography too. You can’t live off theatre photography alone. But photographing most things in theatre is magic, so it’s more rewarding than not.

nardus engelbrecht

Are there any upcoming projects or performances you are particularly excited about?

I’m always excited about someone’s portrait session in my studio. Who knows, maybe 2024 will be a good year for a solo exhibition. I’m looking forward to photographing theatre-makers’ fresh work in 2024.

I’m also looking forward to covering the most important election in South Africa since 1994. Go vote.

Desmond Tutu